Am I Vulnerable?


I had a session with my counsellor last night.  I love talking to her.  She has this way of asking questions that I never thought about before.  I’ve thought about the situation, but not in the way she’s asking.  I have tons of moments sitting across from her when I just stop talking and stare because I don’t know the answer at all!  I find that amazing.

This time we talked about power; the equilibrium and equality in all relationships.  I mentioned that I felt ready to seriously consider finding a romantic relationship again. We’ve sort of touched on my one major relationship that ended badly in the past, but never really delved into it like we did last night.  Before talking specifically about the romantic relationship, we focused on a current other relationship that I have where the issue of power came up.

I’ve been trying to change my perspective in regards to my business partner.  There are things he does that drive me crazy, and my counsellor asked me to make a list of those things.  Not to fix them, but just to look at them and maybe see a pattern.  I found this really hard.  I would sit down to write something, and I’d feel angry and frustrated.  The feeling would be strong enough that I would have to stop.

One day on the way to work, after a particularly good morning of meditation and self-health, I thought about him from a different angle.  I thought about all his good traits.  He has quite a few.  He’s generous, supportive and good at his job.  There were things I definitely could rely on him for.  So instead of focusing on the things I didn’t like about him, I tried to give him the things that were his strengths.  I gave him the work he would excel at and took the things I would excel at.  Any annoying jobs we both hate, I slowly spread them between us.

I don’t always like being the manager, but sometimes it’s worth it.  He will do the work, but he won’t always make the list of what needs to be done.  He’s a reactor, while I’m someone who prepares.

I learned that our partnership works amazingly when we both play to our strengths, and make up for each others weaknesses.  We don’t have to do every job equally, but the entire workload should be spread out.  One step at a time.  Slowly, over about two weeks, my attitude towards him changed.  And as a result, his attitude towards me changed.  Suddenly we were working well together again, and we liked each other again.

My counsellor asked me to put this theory of power into my last relationship.  Where was the power dynamic?

Just asking me that question made me realize how unbalanced it was.  He was only a few years older than me and yet I looked up to him as ‘the one in charge’.  Why?  I thought of him as having more experience.  Was that true?  When we met, he lived at home and had never supported himself.  I’d been on my own for years.  When we met we were started the exact same school program.  We were on even ground.  And yet I still saw him as somehow having more power than me.  He used to tell me his grades and I would feel inadequate someone if I had a lower grade and wouldn’t want to tell him.  That last thing came around when I found out that I made the deans list and he didn’t, but I never told him that.

We shifted the conversation a little and I went on to explain why I thought I’d allowed that power dynamic.  What I might have done to change it.  What did wrong.  My counsellor listened for awhile before asking me what I thought he could have done differently.

It was a weird thought to me.  I’ve spent a lot of time these last few years living and learning about myself.  I looked at how to improve my personal wellness and make my life fulfilling.  It’s been about me.  But during my relationship there were two of us.  I was using the word ‘I’ almost exclusively with a ‘we’ thrown in there sporadically.  I gave him the power, but he also took it.  Something about him, even if he didn’t do it on purpose, made me feel like I needed to give him all that power.  And when I gave it, he gave nothing in return.  And then I resented him, because he took that power but didn’t take care of me.

Bouncing back from that relationship, I took back all my power.  But I’ve unintentionally gone to the opposite end of the spectrum.  My counsellor said that I give off a very ‘I can take care of myself’ competent and strong exterior.  That isn’t an insult at all.  But what I’m not giving off is my willingness to be vulnerable.  When a potential partner looks at me, they ask themselves what they can give and in my case, my exterior tells them nothing.  I don’t need anything from you.  I have all the power and so the scale is tipped dramatically in my direction, and they can feel it.  If I was approaching someone like me knowing what I know about power, what would I do?  I’d probably see a big warning sign and run for the hills!  If I’m serious about meeting someone new and building a powerful and equal relationship, that means I’m going to have to be okay with giving some power to that other person and trusting that in return, this other person will share their power.  It’s a balancing game.

Until now, I never understood the power imbalance in my last relationship.  I took a lot of what went wrong onto myself.  I allowed this to happened.  I allowed him to take my power.  It’s important to understand what I did wrong so I can learn from it, but I can’t forget that two people in that relationship failed.  It takes two people to build a power balance.

My business partner isn’t helping me build the balance, mostly because I’ve never really spoken to him about it, but he’s still doing his part.  When I say ‘I’ll do this if you can do this’, he agrees and does his part.  When there’s a big project, he comes and sits at my desk and we talk about it.  When he goes to Costco to buy coffee for the office, we talk about the best flavour to get.  Some of it is little, but it’s a partnership, a balance of power.  Whenever I find myself annoyed with him, I see now that it’s because the balance has shifted in some way, and I’m feeling resentful of it.  Resentment is a gateway for me.  As soon as it starts, It just builds on itself until it’s all I can feel.  So when I feel it, I look at the power and see where it’s falling.  Usually it’s really easy to see.

Looking at starting a new relationship, I have to make sure that the person I find isn’t interested in taking all the power.  At the same time I have to take a breath and be willing to share some of the power I’ve created in my life.  Be vulnerable.  It’s not all about what I can do, it’s about what the other person can take and do.  A true partnership means that it’s a give and take.  There may be things I can’t do that they can, or vice versa, and that’s perfectly natural.  Not everything has to be done together.  But being vulnerable enough to give what I’ve worked so hard taking back is not easy.  I’ve never been good at vulnerability.  I’m good at strength.  I’m good at control.  But these things I’m good at are also what are helping me close up and give off to the world a ‘I’m in control’ attitude that is make me unapproachable.

I’m leaving off with this note from my counsellor.  I don’t have to give up my strength or control.  That’s not what we’re talking about at all.  It’s about sharing it and accepting someone else’s positive attributes.  Being vulnerable does not mean giving into weakness or giving up on power, it means simply opening and being willing.


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